Conflict, Theories and Case Applications
Conflict, Theories and Case Applications
(1998) defined conflict as the perception of personal differences among individuals. It is also the process of social interaction between contradicting parties over various matters like resource, power, beliefs and preferences. In the organizational setting, the types of conflict are usually categorized based on their source or causes. For example, the affective conflict is a type which arises due to contrasting feelings or emotions. (1997) noted that this type of conflict is often characterized by interpersonal clashes, frustration and anger. A cognitive or task conflict on the other hand happens when the opinions or ideas of two or more groups contradict ( 2001). This type of conflict also occurs when the interest of the members do not agree with each other. Conflict may also occur in an organization due to contradicting goals. When social entities have different preferred results or decision outcomes, conflict may also result ( 2001).
Due to the presence of different personalities in an organization, the occurrence of conflict is indeed very likely. In fact, it has been stated that organizational conflicts are now recognized as inevitable, endemic and in most cases, legitimate. If this statement will be analyzed, there is a clear implication that conflicts at present are both expected and accepted by organizations. While conflicts are typically taken negatively, the statement also emphasizes that these can lead to positive outcomes.
Conflicts for example may result to the development of better goals. It can also bring people together, resulting to closer interpersonal relations. As conflicts may be taken as a challenge, its presence can motivate others to become more positively involved and committed to the assigned task. Conflicts can also promote better understanding of each person’s personality, views and attitudes. By means of applying the knowledge on conflict theories and process, conflicts in the organization can be understood and managed. This paper will then attempt to discuss various cases of conflict from the author’s organization as well as other companies. The aim of this discussion is to investigate the relevance of conflict theories and process to actual organizational events.
Case 1: Cultural Differences among Employees
I am currently working for an information technology (IT) company. Due to the continuous rise of technology, the company needs to do a number of changes in its systems and operational procedures. One of which is to pursue its aim to operate at the global level. For this strategy, the company needs to have employees who will operate its international branches. The company then decided to do outsourcing and hired employees abroad. This new employment practice enables the company to increase workplace diversity, which has helped the company enter various foreign markets. However, the foreign employees, their individual cultures and different demands somehow place the company in conflict. The company implemented its standard work practices in the new foreign branches; some of which however, were not agreeable with the foreign employees. For example, some foreign employees observe official local holidays like religious occasions that are not recognized by the mother company. Employees would then assert that work should be put on hold until after their national holiday. Benefits that foreign employees should receive also vary from one locale to another. Standard work schedules and loads are also often in conflict with the common practices of foreign employees. This conflict is commonly referred to as the cross-cultural type. According to this conflict theory, conflict between parties that came from different cultural backgrounds is likely to occur due to differences in beliefs, values and ideals.
The diagram above shows the conflict process between the organization and its foreign employees. The source of the conflict is called differentiation. The organization hired employees who observe a different culture; probably, they had been exposed to a different corporate background as well. With the problem on cultural diversity, the ability of the employees and company management to understand and accept each other’s beliefs is reduced. This then makes conflict more likely to occur. As cultural practices and beliefs are part of a person’s being and principles, going against them can result to socio-emotional conflicts. This is more difficult to manage as contrasting parties can make the issue too personal. In addition, due to differences in personalities, other employees can openly complain, be aggressive and confront the management as encountered by the organization I work for. In turn, negative outcomes like job dissatisfaction, stress and unproductive attitude result.
In order to address this cross-cultural conflict, the best step to do is to reduce the differences between parties as well as to compromise. Before doing this, a suitable environment for negotiation should first be established. This is largely based on both parties’ attitude and ability to interact. For this, the company should communicate and listen to their employees. It is important that both management and employees are able to speak up their thoughts to others. Without proper communication abilities, conflicting parties will just feel frustrated every time a conflict arises; this will then aggravate existing conflicts. Effective communication also practices two-sided conversation; in this aspect, the organization management should let the conflicting parties raise their views and reasons. Both parties should not refrain from hearing the other’s inputs.
Listening abilities is also important; in this case, the company management should concentrate on what the other side is saying and not on the response for each point raised. The aim of having these important skills is to ensure that a positive environment is observed despite the conflict ( 2005). The maintenance of a positive environment is not only helpful for developing the right solutions but also in speeding the process of conflict management. Considering the difficulty of managing the cited case due to the presence of socio-emotional conflict, it is imperative that an environment conducive for negotiation is established.
Conflict management also requires the right attitude from the conflicting parties. Both must be able to handle their emotions well. Strong negative emotions such as despair, frustration and anger must be managed well so as not to worsen the situation. Through effective emotional management, respect will be exercised in all parties involved. It is essential that managers do not verbally attack employees who are trying to issues of conflict. Rational behavior is also important in conflict management; the company management should realize that they have to be connected with the employees at all times so as to understand the situation and implement the proper solutions.
The negotiation between the management and the foreign employees should then focus of the reduction of differences. The company should let the employees relay their needs and demands. The company should then respect these points and think of ways on how a settlement can be achieved. Finally, changes that would meet the employees’ demands should be implemented; how these changes would affect the company and employees’ performance should then be evaluated.
Case 2: Customers and Cultural Differences
Since the company that I work for has started to operate abroad, cross-cultural conflicts had been a frequent issue. Aside from encountering this problem with the employees, the company also had the same problem with the customers it serves. The level of technology in foreign countries varies; others may be advanced while some are still adjusting to common innovations. With different needs, the company often receives complaints from the customers. Clients from advanced nations would demand services that are not yet available in the company; other clients would complain that reaching the company’s online services is too difficult as their access to the internet is limited to public facilities only.
In this diagram, the conflict of the company with its foreign markets is brought about mainly by resource scarcity and communication. In general, this is a task-related conflict between the company and its customers abroad. As some nations lack the necessary resources to support advanced technology, other customers find it difficult to communicate with the company. Those in advanced nations on the other hand, find it difficult to satisfy their needs due to the company’s lack of resources. This again gives rise to communication problems. The conflict then result to increased rates of customer dissatisfaction. Nonetheless, if the company will analyze the situation and make effective decisions, better business strategies can be implemented, leading to customer loyalty.
Similar to the first case, the resolution to this problem should be based on the reduction of differences between both parties. In order to communicate well with foreign markets, the company should adapt strategies or systems that are adaptable to customers’ current situation. This conflict management style is also called the accommodating approach, where the wishes of the other party are granted by another. Accommodating the needs of the customers is the appropriate solution for this conflict since it is the company’s aim to deliver what is best for the clients. Moreover, the company is the one that is capable of implementing strategies that would address the sources of conflict. A similar company case that has adopted the same solution can be cited.
The company is a global fast food establishment and has been successful in expanding its business all over the world. However, being a food service establishment, the company often encounters problems related to food preferences, prices and taboos. Entering a new foreign market is then always a challenge for the company. In order to resolve this, the food company adopted a business tactic called the differentiation strategy; this strategy is focused on manufacturing goods and providing services that are based on the needs of the clients. One of its foreign markets is India.
In this country, majority of the population has been below the poverty line, making it difficult for the company to gain market entry in the country. The economic status of India has eventually improved, increasing the number of the middle class population. This then became the company’s primary target market. Nonetheless, the Hindu population had remained price conscious, encouraging the company to think of ways on how to lower the prices of its food items. The country’s fast food consumers are mostly vegetarian as influenced by their religious beliefs. The company then decided to modify its products based on the customers’ needs. To do this, the company made use of vegetarian food products available in the country as raw materials. For vegetarian menu items the company developed its own farm to grow its own salad ingredients; this in turn helps the company make its product prices lower.
From this example, it become clear how a cross-cultural conflict can result to positive outcomes; specifically, through this type of conflict, organizations become more resourceful and creative with their strategies. Aside from doing the accommodating approach, the organization can also use international consultants. By means of these consultants, the organization can learn more about each foreign market and how to do business with them more effectively. This conflict management style had been evident between western foreign investors and China. As the Chinese opened their doors to trade and business, western investors had been very interested in putting up their own businesses in the country. However, considering that both parties come from different global ends, effective business operations in China become a challenge.
(2000) suggested that one of the important strategies that Western firms should consider to operate in Chine is to find a local business partner. This will help foreign firms adapt easily to the Chinese business environment. A local partner can also assist in learning the Chinese culture, practices, regulations and means of interaction. More importantly, a Chinese business partner can also help in achieving progress faster. According to (2003), searching for a local business partner can be a challenging task as a good partner must have a number of quality skills and potentials. These partners must have the technology and operational standards that matches the foreign firm. In addition, the values that they practice as well as their goals must also match. Generally, it is suggested that good local partners must be honest and have strong political connections. The Chinese partner can then serve as a consultant to prevent or resolve business conflicts.
Case 3: Discrimination
The conflict in my organization did not only occur between the management and the employees. In most cases, conflicts happen among employees since they work more closely together. One of the common issues observed in the workplace include gender and racial differences. In some nations, the field of innovation and technology development is dominated by male employees. Thus, female workers often encounter discriminatory behavior from other employees. As the company operates in other nations, foreign employees trained in the main office encounter racial discriminatory issues. In effect, intergroup conflict arises. This makes it difficult for the employees to work effectively together.
The intergroup conflict among the organization’s employee is brought about by two main sources: personal differences and communication. As this conflict involves personalities, beliefs, stereotypes and attitude, the conflict cited is socio-emotional in nature. This conflict negatively impacts the company as employees tend to segregate themselves from others. Arguments also tend to disrupt regular work activities. The tension between employees also affects their work output.
In order to resolve this, the company should implement strategies that would improve communication and understanding among the employees. Equality in the working environment, like communicative equality, should be fostered to ensure equity among employees. Employees should be encouraged to, not only tolerate, but to become actively involved with the organization’s diversity efforts. Instead of closing themselves off into their own groups and stilling lines of communication, they should be taught to appreciate a diverse workplace. The company for example can organize activities like company outings or dinner gathering where informal communication can be done. By doing this, employees will be able to talk about things outside work. This can help employees learn more about their colleagues and recognize their different interests. Dialogue meetings can also be done in order to allow employees to develop common mental models.
Aside from conducting team-building activities, the company management can also implement organizational strategies that promote the recognition of diversity in the workplace. Through these strategies, employees will become more aware of diversity’s role in the workplace and how this concept can be managed without causing conflicts. One way is to integrate diversity leaders in the organization. (1998) stated that diversity leaders are individuals sensitive, patient, involves, optimistic, amiable and patient. Furthermore, they should act as teachers, mediators and communicators to their subordinates. Through this leadership approach, a diversified but friendly workplace can be established. In addition, organizational leaders become more involved with their subordinates, which lessen the gap observed in terms of job positions or seniority. These leaders can also conduct third party interventions should conflicts arise.
The strategies of the organization should also promote communicative openness (1996). In order to facilitate this between the groups of a diverse workforce, communication lines such as mentoring programs should be conducted. Mentoring programs are often suggested as long-term strategy for equity in a multicultural work setting, while constant disclosure of task-oriented information fosters this same value in short-term capacity. Each employee must be trained to appreciate diversity, and to view it as an opportunity to open new areas for the organization. This, at least, ensures that dissimilar groups receive equal information in the workplace. This strategy is geared towards the creation of multicultural workgroups, emphasizing on the advantages that different people can bring to a project. This also promotes the importance of individual training for employees to adapt to different cultures. Aside from communicative openness and training, the revision of organizational policies and procedures is also said to be another way of managing diversity in the workplace. According to (1996), equality within the workplace should be the main focus of policy changes for diversity management.
Conflicts in organizations are typical occurrences. Although these had been perceived negatively, organizational conflicts at present are more accepted and recognized as means for further development. Its ability to improve interpersonal relations, motivate, promote the acceptance of each person’s differences and enhance work outcomes are some of the important benefits conflict can provide an organization. In this paper, various sources and theories of conflict had been mentioned. Specifically, conflicts due to personality, cultural and interest differences had been cited using the issues encountered by the IT company that I work for. With these examples, it has been stressed that conflicts in organizations are really inevitable and endemic.
By using the conflict process diagram, the rise and effect of conflict had become more comprehensive. With this, it has also been explained that conflicts, though these generally result to negative outcomes, can also bring about positive results to the organization. A number of solutions had been suggested in order to address the conflicts encountered by the organization. These include the use of communication and listening skills, implementation of effective internal and external business strategies, conduction of team-building activities, appropriate leadership style and modification of policies. Conflicts then result to positive outcomes as they encourage organization to become resourceful, flexible and adaptable. Organizational conflicts also make organizations more open to changes. For the management and subordinate employees, conflicts are also beneficial as these help them become better workers and individuals. In conclusion, as every organization works towards success, it is then appropriate to say that conflicts should be included as important keys to achieve this primary goal. By being open to conflicts and applying the concepts of various conflict theories, several other organizations will be more compliant to challenges.
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